Hannay Diaries and Notebooks

Scope and Content

Diaries and notebooks of James Hannay and his son David, 1852-1880.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hannay, James (1827-1873), writer, was born on 17 February 1827 at Dumfries, the son of David Hannay (1794-1864), a businessman, and Elizabeth Affleck (d. 1833). As a student David Hannay had been a member of the Speculative Society at Edinburgh University; in later life he was the author of an unsuccessful novel, 'Ned Allen, or, The Past Age' (1849).

James Hannay joined the navy a few days after his thirteenth birthday, after attending schools in Westmorland and Surrey. For the next five years he combined naval duties, mostly in the Mediterranean-he served on the CAMBRIDGE during the blockade of Alexandria in the Syrian War. His naval service ended in 1845, when he and two fellow officers were court-martialled for insubordination and riotous behaviour and dismissed from the service.

Hannay's first job was as a reporter on the 'Morning Chronicle'. Subsequently he worked on the short-lived satirical papers 'Pasquin' (1847) and 'Puppet Show' (1848-1849). A lively volume of naval sketches, 'Biscuits and Grog', appeared in 1848. His first novel, 'King Dobbs' (1849), featured an imaginary Pacific island whose inhabitants include a 'philosophical novelist'.

Taken up by William Thackeray, whom he had met early in 1848 and to whom 'King Dobbs' is dedicated, Hannay was invited to supply the notes to the printed version of the latter's lectures on English humorists while their author was in the United States. Later he delivered his own moderately successful lecture series, 'Satire and satirists', appropriately enough at the Edwards Street Institute, London, where Carlyle had lectured on hero-worship fifteen years earlier. Two more books that made use of his naval experiences, the novel 'Singleton Fontenoy RN' (1850) and 'Sketches in Ultramarine' (1853), were followed by a third novel, 'Eustace Conyer's (1857). On 24 February 1853 he married Margaret Anne Thompson (1833-1865), daughter of Joseph Thompson, a bank cashier; they had six children.

Electioneering work for the tories in Scotland (he had stood unsuccessfully at Dumfries in 1857) procured him the editorship of the highly partisan 'Edinburgh Courant' (1860-1864). In 1868 his political friends got him appointed British consul at Brest in France, a position he contrived to exchange for a similar role at Barcelona. Hannay died on 8 Jan 1873.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Given to the Library by the Hannay family c/o Professor P G Foote (Scandinavian Department), 19 Nov 1987.

Other Finding Aids

A brief list is available. Please contact Special Collections for further information.

Related Material

Related material in MS ADD 203; MS MISC 3H and MS MISC 3I.